Need a Celebrity to Promote Your Weed Brand? There's an Athlete for That.

Former NFL tight end and Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski has been pushing CBD hard since retiring.
Former NFL tight end and Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski has been pushing CBD hard since retiring. Courtesy of Abacus Health
Society has a complicated and sometimes conflicted relationship with professional athletes, but if there's anything about jocks that we all want to emulate, it's those hot, chiseled bods.

Our opportunities to gain those physiques traditionally have started with buying shoes or training equipment endorsed by current all-stars, but now retired athletes have entered the fray, pushing everything from oddly shaped sneakers to copper-infused bracelets. I grew up knowing Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas as the Big Hurt, a mountain of a man who yawned while jacking dingers across Lake Michigan. Today younger generations know him more for his big dick, jacking wives from their husbands in a Nugenix commercial.

Retired athletes recently found one more honey hole for their spokesperson services, as hemp and marijuana become more mainstream. Ex-NBA or NFL players opening weed dispensaries or starting infused products brands are actually nothing new — Cliff Robertson, Floyd Landis, LenDale White and Al Harrington have all founded cannabis companies or dabbled in partnerships with the industry, and lesser-known retired players have made a career out of advocating cannabis use, hitting the talk-show and conference circuit for speaking gigs — but those opportunities pale in comparison with what the CBD industry is offering right now.

Former Denver Broncos great Terrell Davis, a pitchman for a CBD-infused sports drink, has said that he thinks his injury-shortened career might have lasted longer had he taken CBD during his playing days. Last month, lovable meathead and Super Bowl champion tight end Rob Gronkowski said that CBD had "fixed" symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (also known as CTE, a condition considered untreatable) brought on by concussions from football, a claim that drew a lot of criticism for its lack of scientific backing.

In June, retired NBA star Paul Pierce announced that he was launching his own CBD line, following in the footsteps of ex-NBA players Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes, ex-NFLers Ricky Williams and Kyle Turley, and former Colorado Avalanche enforcer Scott Parker. Even the guy who played Squints in The Sandlot has a CBD brand.

click to enlarge Former Denver Bronco Terrell Davis announced his partnership with a CBD drink earlier this year. - AARON THACKERAY
Former Denver Bronco Terrell Davis announced his partnership with a CBD drink earlier this year.
Aaron Thackeray
Having an athlete with a household name isn't necessarily the point, explains Cannabis Marketing Association founder Lisa Buffo. It's about the credentials that come with that name.

"The analogy I can best think of is a Nike shoe: It's a performance-enhancing product. When I see an ad for an athlete using Nike shoes, I think that if it works for them on court, then it'll work for me. It works the same for CBD," she says. "Athletes are known for pushing their bodies to extreme limits. They're known for pain, and they're known for recovery."

But starting a cannabis brand with a famous face doesn't always guarantee success in such a fragmented market that is still largely based on commodities rather than brands, according to a recent VICE article.

"It seems everyone wants to start a weed brand now," Buffo says. "That fame could help initially, in terms of publicity, connections and starting wealth, but it usually only works if the product is related to what made them famous."

Pushed mainly in the wellness community, CBD has shown the potential to help with pain, anxiety and inflammation — all of which professional athletes deal with on a much greater basis than us regular folk. Despite the lack of federal regulation (and legality), CBD wellness products are now embraced by the supplement community, and a stroll through any GNC store will show you how much dietary and wellness supplement companies love athletes.

It goes without saying that currently employed professional athletes can't partner with dispensaries or THC brands, but CBD and hemp are also virtually off limits for players in the big four American leagues (the MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL) because of their close relation to marijuana. However, individual athletes such as golfers, martial artists, endurance and extreme sports competitors are now a target, as are sports media personalities.

CBDistillery, a Denver-based CBD company, employs professional MMA athletes, surfers and power lifters, but it hasn't stopped there. Earlier this year, CBDistillery sent products to ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt in hopes of a shout-out, which is exactly what Van Pelt gave during one of his podcasts. As the company's public-relations coordinator, Eli Rice, points out, CBD companies are still limited by advertising laws and media policies regarding cannabis, so they get creative with marketing.

"We have a number of sponsored athletes and brand ambassadors, and are always on the lookout for new partnership opportunities. We heard on TV that Scott was interested in CBD, and jumped at the opportunity to send him product," Rice says. "We were excited to hear him talk about our products on his podcast, as well, and are continuing to send him additional items in hopes that we can establish some type of relationship with him and potentially other ESPN personalities in the future."

So CBD can not only give me a hot bod, but it'll also make me a better journalist? Game on!
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell